How to Drive Safely in a Storm
Be ready for the next Irish storm
Storms are a fairly regular occurrence in Ireland, and our little island is often hit by stormy weather that travels across the Atlantic Ocean. While you might consider storms to be monsoons or hurricanes, things that are unlikely to happen in Ireland, they are actually said by Met Éireann to be any “violent atmospheric disturbance, whether it’s a thunderstorm, squall or snowstorm.”
Driving during a storm is something that you should try to avoid. In fact, Met Éireann states that you shouldn’t drive unless your journey is really necessary. But in an emergency or when you’re caught off guard, this isn’t always possible and there may be times when you have to brave the weather. When this is the case, and the rain, wind, lightning or snow hits, how exactly can you ensure that you’re driving as safely as possible?
Ensure your car is prepared for adverse conditions
If you have to drive in a storm, it’s important to ensure that your vehicle is ready for the drive, and there are a few essential inspections that you should make prior to setting off. You should be checking these things on a regular basis anyway, but they’re even more important during a storm when the road conditions are adverse.
Your tyres are the only part of the car that is in contact with the road, so they need to be up to the challenge of driving in rain, snow, or ice. Before heading out, you should check that they have enough tread, so they can grip the road effectively, and that they have just the right amount of pressure. It’s not just low pressure that can be dangerous, but high pressure too, as it reduces the amount of grip the tyres have on the road.
You should always have plenty of fuel in your car when you have to drive during a storm to avoid breaking down in bad weather with poor visibility. This can be extremely dangerous. Therefore, before setting out, check that you have at least a quarter of a tank of petrol.
You should regularly check your vehicle’s oil level, but this is especially important when driving in adverse weather conditions.Use the dipstick to determine how much oil is in the car and whether it needs topping up.
Your brakes should always feel nice and firm, not soft or spongy. If the latter is the case, avoid driving your vehicle in bad weather.
You can also refer back to your latest NCT document to see how worn the brake pads are before driving in a storm. If they were quite worn at your last NCT, they will likely have got worse and could need changing, so you should avoid driving in this vehicle when the weather is rough.
The final check you should make is that of your headlights and brakes. Ensure that they all work so that other drivers can see you clearly and know when you’re braking to avoid an accident. You may also wish to check that your fog lights work (and that you know how to turn them on and off).
Dangers of driving in a thunderstorm
Thunderstorms are just one type of storm, but they can lead to severely adverse weather conditions that you should be aware of. Below, you can find some of the problems that driving in a thunderstorm can lead to.
With thunderstorms often comes rain. Decreased visibility is a common factor, due to the combination of heavy rain and dark clouds. This can be dangerous, as it’s hard to see exactly what’s in front of you, even with your headlights and fog lights on.
Traction describes the amount of grip that a car has on the road. When you have reduced traction, it’s easy to skid or experience spinning wheels. Lower traction is common on icy roads, but other types of storms can also cause this too.
Puddles of Water & Hydroplaning
With rain comes puddles on the road, and even flooding if the rain is very heavy or consistent over a prolonged period of time. When there’s a lot of water on the road’s surface, you’re at risk of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when your car is floating on the surface water instead of having a good grip on the road, and can cause you to lose control of the car. You can find out more about hydroplaning in our handy guide.
Flash flooding can take you by surprise. You may suddenly reach a very flooded section of road or you may find that a road that was clear an hour ago is now inches deep in water. You should always be aware of this when you have to drive in a storm.
Hail can be very scary to drive in. Not only can the noise drown out everything else, but it can severely reduce your visibility too.
Strong winds are another common occurrence with a thunderstorm. They can often be so extreme and powerful, moving cars around or pushing lorries and other tall vehicles over, especially when driving on open roads.
Thunder and lightning often come hand in hand, so when you first hear those booming chimes, you know the electricity forks aren’t going to be far behind. They won’t necessarily affect your driving, besides making you nervous, but it’s still not pleasant to drive in a lightning storm.
Other Road Users
Fallen Trees & Electricity Lines
Beware of trees which might fall especially in densely populated areas. Trees are also at risk of falling in the days after a storm.
High winds can also cause damage to overhead power lines which can break or fall. Call ESB Networks on 1800 372 999 if you come across fallen electricity lines or damaged poles. Keep yourself and others back and never attempt to drive over fallen power lines.
When driving in a storm, you should also be aware of the danger that other road users can cause. Just because you’re driving sensibly, doesn’t mean everyone else is too. Some cars may not have their fog lights on when they should, they may be driving too quickly or they might not have checked things like tyre pressure before setting off. This makes other road users a danger to you as well, and you should keep your distance when the weather is bad.
If your car breaks down during a storm and you need to avail of your breakdown assistance cover, you will find the breakdown number for your insurer by clicking link above.
How to drive safely during a storm
Now you know some of the dangers of driving in a storm, what actions can you take as a driver to ensure you’re being responsible on the roads in dangerous conditions?
Keep Doors Shut and Windows Closed
It’s unlikely that you’d be driving around in a storm with your windows down, but the Met Office does state that you should keep your windows and doors shut. This is particularly the case in a lightning storm. Should your car be hit by lightning, the current should be applied to the outside of the vehicle only, so no passengers can feel its effects.
You must watch your speed when you’re driving in bad weather. By driving too fast, you’re not only increasing the risk of skidding, but you may also struggle to react as quickly if your visibility is poor. Driving more slowly can give you more time to avoid hazards and will prevent you from losing control of the vehicle.
No Tailgating - Give everyone more space
Tailgating also links back to reaction time - the nearer you are to another vehicle, the less time you have to brake should they need to break quickly. By keeping a safe distance, you’re less likely to get into an accident.
Use your lights appropriately
In poor visibility conditions, lights are essential. Even in heavy rain during the day, it’s a good idea to put your headlights on so other cars can see you more easily. Where appropriate, you should also use your fog lights. These may sometimes be necessary during extreme rain and not just fog.
Avoid using bridges
During storms where high winds are present, it can be dangerous to attempt to drive over bridges. The wind can cause them to move, and you certainly don’t want to break down on a bridge during dodgy weather.
The safest way to drive during a storm is to not drive at all. You should avoid going out in extreme weather, particularly if Met Éireann says so or announces a weather warning. Where driving is unavoidable, try to go the shortest distance possible using wide, well-lit roads, such as a motorway.
Check your route on Google Maps before heading out. You will be able to see if there are any delays on your route and it may help you to decide if you should start or abandon your journey.
Know what to do if things go wrong
When you’re driving in adverse weather conditions, things can sometimes go wrong. It’s absolutely best to be prepared for every scenario, so we’ve provided some tips on what to do if things go wrong in a storm.
First, to avoid running out of food or water, or getting very cold, your car should always be stocked with bottles of water, non-perishable food items, and blankets. These could come in handy one day and you’ll likely be extremely thankful for them.
Second, you should always pull the vehicle over should you notice something strange about your car (such as soft brakes or heavy steering) or if a warning light comes up on the dashboard. You should find a safe place to pull over to try and work out what the issue is. Where possible, get someone to pick you up and leave your car where it is to collect later.
Should your vehicle suddenly feel very light and like you can’t control it, you may have lost grip on the road or be hydroplaning.
If there’s surface water, hydroplaning is more likely. In this scenario, it’s best to take your foot off the accelerator and try to regain traction. Do not press the brake pedal, as this could cause the vehicle to spin.
If you think your vehicle is sliding on ice or has lost its grip on the road, you should take your foot off the accelerator and use your wheel to turn in the direction you’re sliding in. Avoid turning your wheel against the slide. By turning into the slide, you should be able to regain control of the car. If you’re shaken up, take the time to pull over (in a safe place and with your hazard lights on), and take a few deep breaths before setting off again.
Should you be unable to continue driving at all, park your car in a safe location and get out of the vehicle. Find a safe place to shelter, ideally inside, until you feel safe to continue.